Marathon Moment: Valerie Faulk
Beth (left) and Valerie (right)
Written by Jennifer Young / Marathon Moment
As her 40th birthday approached, Valerie could think of no better gift to herself than running a half marathon. She’d been a runner most of her life, but stuck to shorter distances. Her youngest child had just turned one and she thought it was the perfect time to focus on herself.
Valerie’s friend Beth encouraged her to join the Queen City running club as a way to prepare for that first half. The club is made up of hundreds of runners all working on their own personal running goals. Valerie signed up right before Christmas in 2019 and just after the new year she set out with Beth on her first night run with Queen City.
She was a mile in when she bent down to tie her shoe. She stood back up, started running again - and then collapsed. Another runner - a nurse - rushed to help. She couldn’t feel a pulse and started CPR. Valerie regained consciousness as the paramedics were lifting her into the ambulance. She spent nine days in the hospital and underwent dozens of tests. Doctors thought Valerie may have gone into cardiac arrest, had a slight stroke and tore several arteries in her neck from the fall. But otherwise, her heart was healthy. One doctor told her it was a one-off situation and would never happen again. Another doctor inserted a loop recorder to record her heart arrhythmias.
Despite the lack of true answers, Valerie started to live her life again. She went back to work and shuttled her kids to their many activities. Two months after that scary incident, she found out she was pregnant with her fourth son. She was shocked. This wasn’t in her plans. And she was scared. She worried about carrying a baby with so much uncertainty about her own health. Knox was born in December of 2020, a year after Valerie had vowed to run a half marathon. Both mom and son were healthy. A month later Valerie got the all clear to work out again, but doctors told her to limit herself to stationary workouts. She bought a Peloton and worked out five days a week. She was on a roll, until she collapsed again.
This time her nine year old son called 911.
The loop recorder that was installed months before caught a tachycardia arrhythmia. It’s when the heart beats too fast. Doctors rushed Valerie into surgery where they implanted a device that stops irregular heartbeats. What followed was more doctor visits, more tests and even a visit to the Mayo Clinic. Finally, Valerie had an answer. Doctors diagnosed her with a heart condition that causes irregular heartbeats in otherwise healthy individuals. The condition is hereditary and because of her diagnosis, they found six other family members have the condition too, including one of her sons.
Valerie started medication to treat the condition and was eventually cleared to exercise again. Doctors even told her she could run, but she couldn’t be alone. She turned to her friend Beth, the one who encouraged her to run with Queen City Running in the first place and the two stuck together on every training run.
Valerie was admittedly scared. She worried her heart would stop. She watched her heart rate constantly and slowed down when her breathing got to be too much. It took her two months to get over that fear.
She bravely ran the Flying Pig Half with Beth right next to her. “I will never forget what she did for me, Valerie said. “She was my biggest cheerleader. I wouldn’t have made all this happen without her.”
And something else happened as she worked her way to the finish line. She turned 40. Her goal to run a half marathon: realized.
“It’s crazy how much physical movement is taken for granted, until something happens to you and limits your activities, and limits your ability to reach your goals.” Valerie said. “I felt like the luckiest person around, to not only still be alive, but to be able to run a half marathon when I never thought I’d be able to run again.”
Valerie at the Flying Pig finish line.